President Obama speaks during a campaign event in Golden, Colo. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty…)
GOLDEN, Colo. – Hours after President Obama declared that Egypt was neither an ally nor an enemy, the White House on Thursday tweaked that answer to say the strategically important nation was a “long-standing and close partner.”
Downplaying the tension evident in the president’s remarks in an interview late Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was speaking in the technical terms of diplomacy and that nothing about U.S. policy toward Egypt has changed.
"‘Ally’ is a legal term of art,” Carney said. “We do not have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, like we do, for example, with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is a long-standing and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation in supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”
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Obama discussed the strategic partnership between the two countries with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Carney said, “while making clear our mutual obligations, including the protection of diplomats."
Carney said Obama appreciates the latest statements from Morsi, issued Thursday morning. Morsi has now condemned this week’s attack on the American missions in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
Wednesday, Obama was clearly put out with the initial response by the Egyptian government.
After the first reports of violence, Morsi only scolded the rioters. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi was a member of when elected, encouraged more protests. Muslims across the region are angry about an anti-Islam film apparently made in the U.S., translated into Arabic and posted online.
In an interview with Telemundo on Wednesday, Obama said of Egypt, “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.
“I think it’s still a work in progress, but certainly in this situation, what we’re going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected,” he said.
The White House parsing of the language has raised questions about whether Obama means to change the status of the U.S. relationship with Egypt. The State Department said Thursday that Egypt was still technically designated a major non-NATO ally, as it has been for three decades.
Though Obama could move to change that, Carney said the president’s wording didn't indicate a shift in policy. The United States was not planning to withhold the substantial aid it delivers to Egypt each year, Carney said. However, the president’s message could also be read as a warning.
[Updated 4:52 p.m., Sept. 13: This post was updated to add the State Department's comments and further clarification by Carney.]
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The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is secure and all personnel safe and accounted for, Carney said. The White House is closely monitoring the protests in the region, which he said stem from outrage about the film and are not a reaction to U.S. policy.
American missions have now been attacked in three Middle Eastern nations: Yemen, Egypt and Libya.
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